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The A to Z of Baking: I is for Ice Cream Cupcakes

IMG_0090I have loved baking the ‘I’ of the A to Z of Baking challenge this week, I can tell you! I opted for Ice Cream Cupcakes and these cheeky little treats have been fun to make, impressive to show off to friends and tasty to trough away on…

What’s made these cakes even more enjoyable was that I made them on Friday evening, ahead of a busy weekend of visiting a university friend and the gorgeous new addition to her family, a little baby boy, on the Saturday, before welcoming a school friend and her family over to our house for lunch on Sunday, so I had plenty of opportunity to share out the cupcakes over catch ups. As I’ve mentioned in previous baking challenge blog posts, I find baking so much more enjoyable and worthwhile when there is an occasion to bake for. On those weeks of the baking challenge when there’s not much happening generally and I’m struggling to palm cake off on people, it can all feel a little indulgent and, well, wasteful.

I followed a recipe shared with me from a friend of a friend and it was lovely and simple, but tasty. I knew that I’d be having to pipe the topping onto the cupcakes and this made me a little nervous because I’ve had a crappy plastic piping nozzle and equally flimsy piping bag for quite some time and every time I’ve used it, it’s ended in a bag splitting disaster. I’ve managed to avoid piping in my last few recipes but thought I really couldn’t avoid it any longer so I invested in a set of metal nozzles and sturdier bag earlier last week in preparation for the challenge. Not surprisingly, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ came true and it turned out that investing a little more in a decent set of nozzles and bag worked wonders!

I was proud to trot off to Stoke-on-Trent on Saturday afternoon with a tin full of ice cream cupcakes, the only disaster came when I arrived and found that most had fallen over in the tin on the way… I was sure there were that many in the tin that they would support one another but clearly not! Cue much ranting and raving from me at this point…

Luckily, with the help of my other half, we managed to salvage the cakes so they looked reasonably presentable once again and took them into our friends’ house; they had both been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the cakes and wondering what the creation for the letter ‘I’ would be! I don’t think they were disappointed with the result, even if the little cupcakes did look a little dishevelled after a two-hour journey.

High points

These cupcakes are super fun – and easy – to make and look really impressive. The recipe I was kindly given is very tasty, not just your bog standard fairy cake recipe, so it’s an impressive looking cake that really packs a punch in the taste department.

Low points

The low point was all down to my naivety – next time I’m planning on taking cakes on a long-distance car journey, I really should invest in a more suitable method of packaging!

For the cupcakes (makes 20-21):

  • 240g plain flour
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 240ml whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 21 wafer ice cream cup cones

For the frosting:

  • 250g mascarpone
  • 200g full fat cream cheese
  • 150g unrefined icing sugar
  • Zest of a lemon

Other optional ingredients:

  • Small quantity of lemon curd to top the baked cupcakes with – this is optional
  • A box of Cadbury’s Flakes, to top the cupcakes with
  • Hundreds and thousands to sprinkle on top of the cakes

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3.
  • Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter in a free-standing electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a hand-held electric whisk) and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.
  • Gradually pour in half the milk and beat until the milk is just incorporated.
  • Whisk the egg, vanilla extract and remaining milk together in a separate bowl for a few seconds, then pour into the flour mixture and continue beating until just incorporated (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula). Continue mixing for a couple more minutes until the mixture is smooth. Do not overmix.
  • Spoon the mixture into the wafer ice cream cup cones until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, or until light golden and the sponge bounces back when touched. Be careful not to spill cake mixture down the outsides of the wafer cones as it can burn when in the oven.
  • Leave the cakes to cool on a wire rack and once cooled, top with a layer of lemon curd before icing if you wish (this is optional, but adds to the flavour).
  • To make the frosting, put the icing sugar, mascarpone and cream cheese into the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat till smooth and creamy. Mix in the lemon zest.
  • Fill a piping bag with the frosting and then pipe onto the cupcakes in a circular motion.
  • Top each cupcake with a mini Cadbury’s Flake and sprinkle some hundreds and thousands over if you wish.

 

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After Race for Life (5k) in 2014 - the furthest I have ever run in one stint.

Countdown to My First 10k Race

After Race for Life (5k) in 2014 - the furthest I have ever run in one stint.

After Race for Life (5k) in 2014 – the furthest I have ever run in one stint.

I mentioned back in March (where is this year going?!) that I had taken up running and had signed up to run my first 10k at the end of September, as it was a goal of mine to complete my first 10k this year. September seemed like a very long time away for most of the year because, well, just because it was(!), but here we are now, fast approaching the end of August and I am feeling more than a little nervous about the Great Yorkshire Run I am due to take part in in my home city of Sheffield on Sunday, September 27, 2015.

Oh my word, in five weeks I will be running 10k – a walk in the park to some people yes, but I have never run more than 5k in one stint, so I really can’t imagine doing that distance twice! I’ve enjoyed running this year as my primary form of exercise but I will admit that over the summer my approach to it has been very stop-start-y, what with birthdays, holidays, festivals, general life getting in the way. I haven’t made as much time for running as I should have and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that.

Nevertheless, after returning from a summer holiday to my beloved Greece a couple of weeks ago, I have been determined to knuckle down and get on with training. I have set myself my 10k goal for this year, I have told family and friends that this is what I am doing, so I will not give up!!

Taking advice from my good friend and all-round fitness inspiration Helen, I have begun doing, and will continue to do,  two after-work runs and a longer weekend run (5k and hopefully a little further each time) each week to prepare for the race. Helen, a London Marathon completer,  is a keen runner and recently posted some great pre-race ritual tips over on her blog at Helen Got Fit. I’ve been following Helen’s advice and if you’re just starting out in running or looking to improve your form, you should definitely go and give Helen’s blog a visit.

Looking ahead to the race day, I don’t have any time that I want to beat as this will be my first race and I will just be happy to get through it, to be honest! I will admit that a tiny part of me would be super, super thrilled if I completed my first 10k in an hour or under, but the bigger, more realistic part of me knows that in the state I am in, that’s probably not going to happen so I’m not paying too much attention to that naive ambition. My boyfriend Steve will be running his first 10k with me on the day, so it is a first for both of us, and together we’ll be raising money for Diabetes UK, because everything the charity is fighting for is a cause close to both of our hearts. You can find out more about why we have chosen to raise funds for Diabetes UK here.

I’ll let you know how we get on, eeeek!

Mama-andmore

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The A to Z of Baking: H is for Honey and Pear Layer Cake

IMG_0080Fresh from my recent holiday to Greece, I had intended to make Honey and Lemon Loaf for the ‘H’ of my baking challenge but upon revisiting the recipe, it looked really quite underwhelming and I was really up for challenging myself a bit more this week. So instead, I plumped for a last-minute change and decided to make Honey and Pear Layer Cake, from my new favourite book – Hummingbird Bakery’s Cake Days book (I’m not on commission from Hummingbird, I promise!).

The last layer cake I made was the Double Chocolate and Espresso Cake, back in the ‘D’ day of my baking challenge, and I ended up having to go with only two layers rather than the suggested four because I used two 9″ cake tins, rather than the suggested 8″ tins, and, not surprisingly, found I couldn’t easily then slice my cakes into two. Naive!

No more skimping on the proper equipment this time around, I decided, so I invested in two 8″ cake tins in order to make this week’s creation. I had to make the four layers in two batches because I don’t have the luxury of a double oven, but as two cake layers only took 25 minutes to bake between them, it didn’t feel too time demanding.

And what do you know, I cracked a layer cake for the first time! The cake was surprisingly easy to make and is super, super tasty. It’s sweet but varied in flavour – honey, pear and cheese frosting, if you please…

I took some of the cake into work to share with colleagues after they’d had a few weeks off from me forcing cakes upon them and two of them loved the cake so much that they ordered the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book off the back of it. Hummingbird, you so should be paying me commission ;-)

High points

This cake was surprisingly easy to make but still looks and tastes like a little bit of a showstopper…

Low points

That said, my presentation, although I can tell it is improving, still leaves a lot to be desired and this cake didn’t look quite as ‘finished’ as I had hoped. I didn’t crystallise the fruit on top of the cake for long enough, for a start.

Ingredients for the caramelised pears:

  • 3 pears
  • 20g unsalted butter
  • 60g runny honey
  • 40g caster sugar

Ingredients for the sponge:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 40g soft light brown sugar
  • 120ml buttermilk
  • 120g runny honey
  • 120ml vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt

Ingredients for the frosting:

  • 500g icing sugar (I only had 345g in the house though so I winged it, and it turned out ok!
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g full fat cream cheese
  • 50g runny honey

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 170C and line the base of the sandwich tins.
  • Peel and core the pears and cut lengthways into about 12 slices. Place the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and melt together on a low heat. Add the sliced pears and cook until golden. Set aside to cool while you make the sponge batter.
  • Using a handheld electric whisk or a freestanding electric mixer with the paddle attachment cream together the eggs and sugars until light and fluffy.
  • In a jug stir together the buttermilk, honey, vegetable oil and lemon zest. Pour the liquid into the creamed ingredients while mixing on a low speed.
  • Sift together the remaining ingredients, add to the creamed mixture and mix together on a medium speed to ensure everything is well incorporated. Divide the cake batter evenly between the prepared cake tins.
  • Top the batter with the cooked pears, allowing approximately nine slices per cake and placing them in concentric circles, each slice evenly spaced apart.
  • Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until each sponge is golden brown on top and bounces back when lightly pressed. Allow the cakes to cool completely before you frost them.
  • To make the frosting, using the electric whisk or mixer with the paddle attachment slowly mix the butter and icing sugar together until no large lumps of butter remain and the ingredients have a sandy consistency.
  • Add the cream cheese and honey and continue mixing on a low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and beat the frosting until it’s light and fluffy.
  • Once the cakes are cooled, place the first layer cake on a plate and top with 3-4 tablespoons of frosting, smoothing it on with a palette knife and adding a little more if needed.Continue this process with each layer.
  • When you have added the final layer frost the sides and top of the cake covering it completely so that no sponge can be seen.

**I topped the cake with crystallised fruit (I used strawberries and apricots, but you can use any fruit). To do this, I fully dipped each fruit piece in egg white and then dipped the fruit in a bowl of caster sugar to fully coat the fruit. I then left the fruit to set – you are recommended to do this for 24 but I probably only did about 12 to be fair because I was pushed for time, so my fruit could have been a little more crystallised.

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9 Reasons You Should Still Visit Greece

Oia, Santorini, 2015.

Oia, Santorini, 2015.

I have a long-standing love affair with Greece. Apart from one year off last year, I have visited a different part of Greece every year for the last six years, sometimes venturing over there more than once in a year, such is my love for the country. I first travelled to Greece when I was 18, on a girly holiday with three friends to Crete, just before we all departed for university. I didn’t look at the country on that first visit in the same way that I do now, however. At 18, all I was looking for was cocktails and boys. Now though, there is so much I appreciate when I visit Greece; it is a country that takes my breath away for so many reasons.

Greece has been in the press a lot recently, and not always in such a positive way. With the country’s economical issues widely reported and also the news of the influx of immigrants arriving on the island of Kos, it’s been enough to make people think twice about visiting the country. Over the past few months, I personally have heard people say they were choosing to avoid Greece for a summer holiday this year because they didn’t want to run the risk of being stranded with no cash, being mugged in the streets, robbed in their hotel rooms, or they just generally didn’t want to spend a week in a country where the economy is ‘on its knees’ and there wouldn’t be a fun, holiday vibe for the tourists there.

I’ll be honest, the recent media hysteria and the opinions of others left me feeling a tad nervous about an impending trip to Santorini, an island I’ve wanted to visit for years. I ended up making the journey over to Santorini last week however, and it was a million miles away from the hysteria that has been reported in the press. It was a friendly island with a laid-back vibe and a wonderful week was had. So, as I sit here fresh off my flight and I reminisce already over the last week, I wanted to share with you just a few of my personal reasons why you shouldn’t be put off from visiting this beautiful country.

Whether you’ve been before or whether it’s your first time, here’s just 9 reasons – in no particular order – from me (although I could list more!) why it’s totally worth going and showing Greece some love…

1. THE BEACHES

Kefalonia, 2010.

Kefalonia, 2010.

Whatever kind of beach you are looking for in Greece, you can find it. From the lively, party beaches in the busier resorts, to secluded little coves and bays, Greece has it all. And more often than not, the beaches are a beautiful sight to behold, with crystal clear waters. A particularly fond beach-related memory I have of Greece is driving the small island of Kefalonia in our rented jeep and stopping off at one of the many coves located around the island. Each one different, yet each one stunning.

2. THE FOOD

The view from lunch - Parga, Mainland Greece, 2013.

The view from lunch – Parga, Mainland Greece, 2013.

Greece is famous for its cuisine and as a self-confessed greedy pig who loves to eat pretty much anything and everything, I simply love the variety and the freshness of the Greek diet. Many of the traditional recipes have been passed down through the generations, and adapted and perfected over time. You can’t beat a laid-back lunch of a typical Greek Salad, filled with cucumbers, peppers, feta cheese and the plumpest, juiciest tomatoes you’ve ever seen. All washed down with an ice cold Mythos beer, of course ;-) .

Although I am gradually attempting to cut down my meat intake where possible, I do enjoy to sample the traditional kleftico dish whenever I visit, slow cooked lamb with potatoes and my favourite ingredient – feta cheese, of course!

Without doubt, the best kleftico I tasted was at Caesar’s restaurant in Lindos, Rhodes. Offering a modern twist on a classic dish, it was simply delicious. Plus, the beautiful atmosphere of the rooftop restaurant, with views out over Lindos Bay, made this eating experience even more exquisite. If you visit Lindos, you must visit Caesar’s and after you’ve enjoyed your meal, go and have a drink with Yannis, the owner, at the bar. He’s a lovely man and Lindos legend!

With Yannis and family at Caesar's restaurant - Lindos, Rhodes, 2013.

With Yannis (second from left) and family at Caesar’s restaurant – Lindos, Rhodes, 2013.

3. THE WINE

Enjoying a little tipple in Koutouloufari, Crete, 2012.

Enjoying a little tipple in Koutouloufari, Crete, 2012.

Perfectly accompanying the delicious cuisine in Greece is the wine you can enjoy there. Although Greek wine is not something we may commonly pick up in our off licences and supermarkets in the UK – compared with the French, Italian, Australian and South American wines we more often see on our shelves, for example – the country is actually one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. You can share half a litre of the local wine with your meal in a taverna for roughly €4-5 and, nine times of out ten, it is very palatable and enjoyable. On many of the Greek islands, you can visit wineries and sample the range of home-grown wines on offer.

4. BOUGAINVILLEA

Beautiful Bougainvillea - Kefalonia, 2010.

Beautiful Bougainvillea – Kefalonia, 2010.

Although not a native plant of Greece in particular, bougainvillea is everywhere to be seen in this fabulous country and serves to enhance its unique beauty, in my opinion. There is just something about the sight of colourful bougainvillea spilling down the side of a crisp, whitewashed building that makes me go a little bit weak at the knees.

Hiding myself in the Bougainvillea! - Kefalonia, 2010.

Hiding myself in the Bougainvillea! – Kefalonia, 2010.

5. THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO

The view from Ali Pasha Castle - it was a trek and a half to reach the summit but completely worth it! - Parga, Mainland Greece, 2013.

The view from Ali Pasha Castle – it was a trek and a half to reach the summit but completely worth it! – Parga, Mainland Greece, 2013.

Wherever you go in Greece, you will never have a shortage of things to do and stunning sights to soak up along the way. The country is home to a range of monuments and UNESCO heritage sights that are guaranteed to take your breath away.

Beauty, history and culture is everywhere you turn in Greece and whilst its fine and acceptable to be asked to pay towards the upkeep of some historical sites when you visit them, you will also find that in some places you can spend a day exploring some of Greece’s amazing history and soaking up some breath-taking sights, and it is all completely free of charge.

Meteora, Mainland Greece, 2013.

Meteora, Mainland Greece, 2013.

One particular site I would recommend would be the rock formations at Meteora on the mainland. Meteora is one of the largest complexes of Greek Orthodox monasteries in Greece and it is literally a breathtaking sight to behold. You can easily spend a day exploring this area, and you’ll also easily burn off some of the feta cheese you’ve been consuming (or maybe it’s just me who goes overboard on the feta when in Greece ;-) ) as it’s definitely an active day.

6. THERE IS SO MUCH NOT TO HAVE TO DO

Perissa, Santorini, 2015.

Perissa, Santorini, 2015.

If, however, you’re longing to switch off from modern life and spend a week doing little more than rotating on a sun lounger, then that’s also absolutely fine in Greece. As mentioned earlier, there are so many beautiful beaches around Greece that you can top up your tan in some stunning settings. Whatever pace of life you’re after, Greece is happy to oblige.

7. THE CLIMATE

Exploring Skiathos, 2012.

Exploring Skiathos, 2012.

Greece is blessed with a perfect climate for summer adventures. Usually not too hot and never too cold in the summer months, it is the perfect weather for exploring or lounging to your hearts desire. Just don’t forget your sun cream, you will need it!

8. SUNSETS

Sunset over Oia, Santorini, 2015.

Sunset over Oia, Santorini, 2015.

You can spot some stunning sunsets in Greece and this past week, I was lucky enough to witness one of the famous Santorini sunsets in Oia. Along with about five million other people… Yep, it was a popular view and a struggle to shuffle to the front but once you got close enough and nudged all the selfie sticks out of the way, you found that the view was wonderful and well worth the visit.

9. CATS!

Friendly little fella in Perissa, Santorini, 2015.

Friendly little fella in Perissa, Santorini, 2015.

No post on Greece from this self-confessed cat lady would be complete without a nod to all the Greek cats out there! There are plenty of cats milling around in Greece, some which belong to people, some which sadly are feral or stray. However, increasingly, cat welfare centres are popping up around Greece to care for and neuter stray and feral cats in Greece. I could go for miles here with sharing my favourite Greek cats pictures but I thought I should limit it to these two ;-) .

'Theo', the friendly little cat who visited us every day in Hersonissos, Crete, 2012, and who inspired me to name my cat Theo one year later.

‘Theo’, the friendly little cat who visited us every day in Hersonissos, Crete, 2012, and who inspired me to name my cat Theo one year later.

So, as I sit here with my Santorini tan already falling off, I’m resisting the urge to book another Greek trip right here, right now! I think I should just enjoy my holiday memories for now. Please do share your Greek holiday memories with me! What’s the best place you’ve visited in Greece? Would you go back to the country? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

(All images © Jennifer Smith)

Mama-andmore

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The A to Z of Baking: G is for Guinness Cake

phontoAfter the chaotic, sugar coated mess of my last A to Z of Baking challenge, I opted for something that I hoped would be tasty but less ‘high maintenance’ for the ‘G’ of my challenge. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I decided to create Guinness cake for the first time and compared with last week’s bake off, this latest baking experience was smooth, sweet and laid-back, just as anything involving Guinness should be.

I set to making my latest creation a few days earlier than planned. On Tuesday evening, Steve and I rushed home from work to give our house a quick spruce up as we’re planning to rent it out in the near future (more news on this adventure to follow in a future post) and were informed by the estate agent that we had a viewing booked for 6pm. By 6.30pm, it became clear that our first house viewer was a no-show. Feeling tired, restless and annoyed that we’d cancelled our evening plans for this non-existent viewing, I decided to do something productive with my frustration rather than give into the temptation to veg out in front of the TV.  So, what better to do than rustle up a cake!

Cake in the tin to take to work!

Cake in the tin to take to work!

After a mad dash to the local supermarket, I set to creating my chocolate stout cake and let me tell you, the recipe I followed from the Hummingbird Bakery ‘Cake Days’ book was a breeze! It was relatively quick to rustle up and very painless, and the results are impressive!

High points

This cake is, in my humble opinion and limited experience, super easy to make, and looks and tastes delicious.

Low points

There aren’t many, other than I forgot to dust the cake with cocoa powder, but I don’t think that affected the overall outcome much.

Ingredients

  • 250ml Guinness
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 80g cocoa powder
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 140ml buttermilk
  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

For the frosting

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 125g full-fat cream cheese
  • Cocoa powder for dusting

Preheat the oven to 170C / 325F / Gas mark 3, then line the base of a 9in (23cm) cake tin with baking parchment.

Pour the Guinness into a saucepan, add the butter and gently heat until it has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and stir the cocoa powder and sugar into the warm liquid. Mix together the eggs, vanilla essence and buttermilk by hand in a hug or bowl, and then add this to the mixture in the pan.

Sift together the remaining sponge ingredients into a large bowl and with an electric whisk, set on a low speed, pour in the contents of the pan. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to mix thoroughly until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 minutes (although I had to bake for nearly an hour until it had set), until the sponge bounces back when pressed and a skewer comes out of the middle of the cake clean. Set aside to cool, and then remove from the tin on to a wire rack, making sure the cake is cold to the touch before you frost it.

Using the electric whisk, mix the butter and icing sugar together until there are no large lumps of butter and it is fully combined with the sugar in a sandy mixture. Add the cream cheese and mix on a low speed, then increase  the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Place the cooled cake onto a plate or cake card and top generously with the cream cheese frosting. The cake can be decorated with a light dusting of cocoa powder.

Mama-andmore
phonto(1)

The A to Z of Baking: F is for Fondant Fancy FAIL!

phonto(1)Hello! I’m back with the ‘F’ of my A to Z of Baking challenge, and after attempting thw following recipe I discovered that I could think of many words beginning with ‘f’ to sum up this week’s concoction, not many of which are positive words!

A little bit of a disclaimer…

Before I get into telling you about my escapades with the letter ‘f’, I must firstly apologise for my absence last week on the baking front and explain the reasons why. When I first undertook this A to Z of Baking challenge a few weeks ago, I pledged to bake a new recipe each week. Six weeks in, I realised that this timescale was a little ambitious and a little too demanding on both my time and my purse (I tell you, the next batch of Tesco Clubcard discount vouchers are going to be for nothing but icing sugar, unsalted butter and cocoa powder!).  I wanted to take on the challenge to expand my baking repertoire, improve my confidence with baking and improve my presentation skills. When I’m rushing to fit baking into my week, it defeats the object altogether. Plus, there is only so much cake I can palm off on my family, friends and colleagues and doing so week on week has been leaving people looking a bit green around the gills, me included!

So, with this in mind, I have had to re-think my timescales and I have instead decided to cut my baking back to once every two weeks. I really appreciate all the support I have had so far on the blog with regard to my baking challenge and do hope you will continue to stick with me on this sugar-soaked journey.

Anyway, back to the baking! I found a lovely looking recipe in one of my books for fondant fancies at the beginning of the challenge and thought that it would be a good test of my developing skills. What a test indeed…

All was going well with the baking of the cake. It was when I came to load it with buttercream and ice the bugger that the test really began. Although I spent time carefully cutting the cake in half horizontally as instructed, it still ended up lopsided with one half clearly thicker than the other (any tips on how to cut better and more evenly gratefully received!). Then, the recipe called for the icing to be drizzled over the top of the fancies, but when they made fancies on Great British Bake Off, they dunked them in the icing so I was skeptical that this approach would work but I equally didn’t ‘fancy’ (geddit?!) trying to dunk the squidgy, messy things in icing!

So, I drizzled away and was left with the rather embarrassing cakes as shown in the pic above, along with a whole load of gloopy icing, buttercream and jam to scrub off my wire rack and chopping board. All in all, not a successful experience and one I won’t be repeating.  Don’t worry Mr Kipling, your job is safe! ;-)

High points

Although the cakes look dire, they are actually very tasty. They’re very sweet so are best served straight from the fridge so that they hold together better and don’t taste quite as sickly as they would do if they were warm.

Low points

Whilst the cakes may taste very nice, they certainly don’t look it so if anyone other than my boyfriend is to try one of these creations, it will most certainly be served with a very apologetic disclaimer from myself.

The recipe I followed…

Ingredients

  • 175g unsalted butter
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of raspberry jam

For the buttercream

  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar

For the icing

  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 450g icing sugar
  • 1 to 2 drops natural pink food colouring

Preheat the oven to 190C (375F/Gas 5). Grease the cake tin (I used a 9″ round tin). Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat until pale and fluffy. Set aside.

Lightly beat the eggs and vanilla extract in another large bowl. Add about 1/4 of the egg mixture and one tablespoon of the flour to the butter mixture and beat well, then add the rest of the egg, a little at a time, beating as you go. Sift over the rest of the flour, add the milk, and fold in with a metal spoon.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until lightly golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool upside down on a wire rack.

To make the buttercream, beat the butter with the icing sugar until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.

Slice the cake horizontally and spread the jam on one half and the buttercream on the other. Sandwich together, then cut into 16 equal squares.

To make the icing, put the lemon juice in a measuring jug and fill it up to 60ml with hot water. Mix this with the icing sugar, stirring continuously and adding more hot water as required until the mixture is smooth. Add 1 to 2 drops of pink food colouring (I used paste) and stir well.

Use a palette knife to transfer the cakes to a wire rack placed over a board or plate to catch the drips, then drizzle the icing over the cakes completely, or just cover the tops of the cakes and allow the icing to drip down the sides so the sponge layers are visible.

Decorate as you please and leave to set for about 15 minutes.

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The A to Z of Baking: E is for Enormous Chocolate Surprise Cupcake

imageOk, so this one might sound a bit of a tenuous link, ‘e’ for ‘enormous’, but this week I decided to make the enormous chocolate cupcake creation in honour of a friend at work’s birthday. I’d decided a few weeks ago that this was what I was going to do, so once I’d ordered my giant cupcake tin (I went for the Eddingtons 3D Jumbo Giant Cupcake Tin) I began looking for giant cupcake recipes.

Still being a bit of a nervous baker, I wasn’t really comfortable with following a standard cake recipe and then sharing it between the two moulds, because I was worried I would get quantities wrong and that it would be a massive fail. I struggled to find many giant cupcake recipes online that I liked (I was looking specifically for chocolate) and which looked impressively decorated. Luckily, however, I mentioned my quest to a friend and she shared with me a recipe from a friend of hers for a chocolate cake that was dedicated specifically to a giant cupcake mould. There’s nothing better than trying out a personally shared recipe, rather than simply trawling recipe books, so I gave it a go and it worked out really well!

Also, shared with me were the ingredients for a chocolate frosting. Although I intended to pipe the frosting onto the top of the cupcake in a swirly fashion, it was nearly 11pm on Sunday night when I began doing this and after another weekend of rocking out – this time to AC/DC at Wembley (honestly, my life is not always this busy…) – I was tired and concerned that I wouldn’t have enough frosting mixture to pipe, so I pasted the frosting on instead. I chose to decorate with edible glitter, mini chocolate hearts, and top with an edible flower. But, the world is really your oyster when it comes to decorating this bad boy, go crazy!

imageI created a slight variation on the recipe by hollowing out a small hole in the base of the cupcake after it had cooled and filling it with a tube of Smarties for a ‘Surprise!’ effect. Upon cutting into the cake, however, we realised it really needed more Smarties. I also toyed with the idea of sticking chocolate fingers to the outside of the base because I’d spotted this idea on another website and really liked it, but didn’t get round to buying any chocolate fingers in time, so that’s one for next time.

High points

With the right recipe, this is a surprisingly simple cake to bake, with impressive results. It tastes good too, not too dense but it can really hold its own.

Low points

Next time (I’ll definitely want to make this again, it’s a perfect celebration cake), I intend to use more chocolate frosting mixture so I can create more of a gooey layer between the base and the top of the cupcake. I also think it’s definitely worth using two to three tubes of Smarties (or Minstrels, or M&Ms – again, feel free to go crazy…) for the surprise. Cutting into the cake to find a very small drizzle of Smarties limping out was underwhelming to say the least.

Ingredients

  • 225g butter, softened
  • 410g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs, large
  • 90g self raising flour
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 90g Cocoa powder
  • 300ml milk
  • 45ml (3 tablespoons) vinegar (malt or white wine vinegar)

For the chocolate frosting

  • 80g unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

First, prep up your giant cupcake tin, a really important step in getting the cake out whole. Spray cake  release is recommended as the easiest thing to use but I greased the tin with butter, making sure to grease every nook and cranny.  Place a circle of baking paper in the bottom of the base. Preheat the oven to 140c (fan) / 160c / gas mark 3. A longer, more gentle bake means that the cake doesn’t take on a hard, thick crust.

Measure the milk and vinegar into a jug, give it a quick stir and set it to one side. Cream together the butter and sugar until it’s nice and fluffy, no skimping on this stage. If you don’t get enough volume into it now, you won’t have enough to fill your tin.

Beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure the mix goes light and fluffy again after each. Now you need to mix in all the dry ingredients and the milk/vinegar mix until it’s evenly incorporated.

Time to fill up the tin. Fill the top first and fill it to about 2cm short of the rim. Now add the rest of the cake mix to the base section – this one will have slightly more space to the top of the rim but as it contains more mixture, it’s got more oomph to rise. Roughly level them both with the back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for 1 hour 10 mins – 1 hour 15 mins. Check the centre of the base section with a skewer and bake until it comes out clean.

Once out of the oven, leave the cakes to cool in the tin for 25 minutes before turning out. After 25 minutes are up, place the cooling rack on the top of the tin and then turn both over together. Give the rack and tin a firm tap on the work surface and carefully lift away the tin.

Next, the chocolate frosting. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, beat the butter until smooth and creamy, for about one minute. Add the sugar and beat until it is light and fluffy, for about two minutes. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the chocolate and beat on a low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium/high and beat until the frosting is smooth and glossy, for about two to three minutes.

Pipe or spread your chocolate frosting over the top half of the cupcake, remembering to spread some frosting also on the top of the base, so that the top half of the cupcake sticks well to the base. Decorate the cupcake with whatever takes your fancy. I opted for edible glitter, chocolate hearts and edible flowers.

Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

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Evaluating Life In the Field of Dreams

11217832_10153091968598031_7649796920151930159_oLast week I temporarily upped sticks and headed down south to Glastonbury Festival to spend four nights camping on a (mahoosive!) farm with another 200,000 people or so.

It was my return to the festival after my first visit exactly ten years ago in 2005, when I had literally just left university. At that time, I had spent the month of June firstly partying in Ayia Napa for a week, on a ridiculously boozy holiday that resulted in a dramatic parting of ways with a friend, which left me distraught (however, ten years later that same friend and I have found each other again and are now boyfriend and girlfriend, so all’s well that ends well), before returning home to head straight to Download Festival for a weekend. So, by the time that Glastonbury rolled round, I was tired, stressed about recent events and concerned about the future (I was about to graduate and return home to live with my parents with no job prospects on the horizon). All of that, coupled with the rain that drenched us for most of the weekend, left me thinking, ‘this overrated festival is hard work, I’ll not be back’.

Fast forward ten years and I found myself heading back down there. Why? Well, a group of friends have been going for the past five years or so and always rave upon their return about the festival. So, when the opportunity arose to head down there this year, I thought ‘why not? I’ve not been to a big festival in quite a few years, let’s do this!’

Glastonbury did not disappoint, and changed my opinion of the annual festival massively. It has grown beyond belief since my last visit and was simply awe-inspiring. You would have to go at least ten times in order to do and see all the things you wanted and there were many points over the weekend when I wished I could split myself into a hundred pieces to go and experience the many different things taking place. Believe me, my Glastonbury Bucket List is very long now, so I will be returning!

Not only was the weekend full of new, exciting experiences that left me marvelling at how much the festival has grown since I was last there, but it also gave me a chance to reflect on how life has changed for me personally over the last ten years. Since that uncertain 21-year-old, at a cross-roads in life, last went to Glastonbury, life has opened up in ways I couldn’t have imagined:

… I’ve followed three different career paths to date, although writing has been the theme that has run throughout and linked each of them together.

… My tastes in all things have grown and developed in a variety of ways.

… I’ve travelled to places I never planned to, or thought in my humble, young mind that I would visit.

… I’ve met and made friends with some amazing people.

… I’ve been lucky enough to fall in love.

… I’ve made life decisions I didn’t want to have to make, and I’ve had to try and let that love go in order to be true to myself.

… I’ve realised that letting go of someone you love can be the hardest thing in the world.

… I’ve made mistakes.

… I’ve been given a chance to try again.

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My Random Musings
Mama-andmore
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The A to Z of Baking: D is for Double Chocolate Espresso Cake

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Last week I made the next recipe for my  A to Z challenge a few days earlier than usual because I was due to go to Glastonbury. So, no sooner had I gotten over over the stressful chocolate brownie experience before I was back in the kitchen again making Double Chocolate Espresso Cake.

This time, however, I took to the baking experience with a much more positive attitude and even managed to bake the cake alongside making tea for my boyfriend and sister, with no stress, tantrums or tears.

The cake turned out really well, although it took a while because I had to cook the two cakes in two batches as my oven was too small to fit in two tins.

The biggest hassle this week was finding people to eat the cake before I headed off to spend the best part of a week in a field. I originally planned to take the cake with me to Glastonbury to share with friends but later came to the conclusion that a 4.5 hour journey in a hot car would probably not be the best idea for a chocolate cake. So, with a day to go I shared the cake out amongst my parents, and friends and colleagues based around the University where I work.

imageIt received positive feedback, and one colleague even commented: “you’re getting really good at this.” I’m not sure if they were just being polite but I’ll take it anyway.

High points

Easier to make than expected, and the mix of coffee, chocolate and caramel makes for a truly decadent treat.

Low points

The original recipe called for the cake to be cut into four layers but I found this impossible to do without destroying the cake so opted for two layers.

Here’s the recipe I followed:

Ingredients

  • 85g good quality dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 340g soft light brown sugar
  • 290ml milk
  • 110g unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 75ml espresso coffee (I used Tiramisu flavoured filter coffee)
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the filling

  • 397g tin of caramel (dulce de leche)

For the icing

  • 65g good quality dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 20g good quality dark cocoa powder
  • Few drops of vanilla extract
  • 25ml strong espresso coffee (again I used Tiramisu flavoured filter coffee)

Heat the oven to 190C / fan 170C / gas 5. Lightly grease the base of two 8in sandwich tins. Break the chocolate into small pieces and put in a heavy based saucepan with the vanilla, half the sugar and half the milk. Melt over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Set aside to cook. Put the butter and remaining sugar into a large bowl and, using an electric whisk, beat until light and fluffy. Break the eggs into a bowl and best lightly with a fork to break them up. Add to the creamed mixture in several additions, beating well between each, then stir in the chocolate mixture and the espresso. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda over the surface and fold in carefully and thoroughly. Stir in the remaining milk; the mixture should be the consistency of a thick batter.

Divide the mixture between the time and bake in the middle of the oven for 35-40 minutes. When cooked, the cakes should feel spongy to the touch and should be evenly set. Leave to cook in the tins for a few minutes before turning out to cool on a white rack.

To make the icing, break the chocolate into small pieces and put into s heatproof bowl. Set over a saucepan of just boiled water and leave it to melt, giving it an occasional stir. When the chocolate has melted, remove from the pan and cool. Whisk the butter in a bowl using an electrician whisk, until light and fluffy. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder into a separate bowl, then gradually add to the butter, with the electric whisk still running. Stir in the chocolate and vanilla, then beat in the espresso until smooth.

To assemble, cut each cake into two layers. Set aside the best layer for the top, then spread the others with the caramel. Stack the cakes. Spread the icing sugar over the top and sides using a palette knife, and swirl the top with the knife. Chill briefly to set the icing, before cutting into slices to serve.

My Random Musings
Mama-andmore
phonto

The A to Z of Baking: C is for Chocolate Brownies

phontoThe aim of this challenge is to try out new and different recipes, so some of you may be wondering why I opted for chocolate brownies this week. Let’s face it, there are plenty of much more outlandish, elaborate, exciting recipes out there than good ol’ chocolate brownies. But the thing is, I was given this recipe by a colleague a while ago, after sampling the most amazing chocolate brownie made following this recipe. Indulgent, gooey in all the right places… it. was. perfection. So, I stored it in my recipe bank and intended to make it but never got round to it, which was why it was my perfect choice for the letter ‘C’.

This week’s baking experience, however, was less than perfect to begin with. I decided to bake the brownies to take into work on Friday because it was my birthday on Saturday, so I thought that I would take the brownies in as a pre-birthday treat for everyone. Arriving home later than expected on Thursday and with limited time to bake before heading out again, I set about creating the brownies.

I was feeling tense, stress and against the clock from the second I started baking, so I just knew something had to give. I didn’t read the recipe through before beginning as I was in a rush, so I read the line in the method that stated:  ‘Mix together all dry ingredients and then place to one side’ and dutifully weighed and mixed the plain flour, cocoa powder and sugar together. Then, I followed the next instruction below, which read: ‘Cream room temperature butter (bar 2 tbsp) and sugar together. Once white and fluffy beat in one egg at a time until combined.’

‘WTF!’ I thought. ‘I’ve already mixed the sugar in with the blimmin’ dry ingredients and I don’t have enough ingredients to start all over again. Nor do I have time to go out to the shop for more!’ After much cursing under my breath, I had a quick word with myself. I do not want to fail on my baking challenge, nor did I want to let my colleagues down the next day and turn up to work empty handed, so I decided – rightly or wrongly – to mix the small amount of brown sugar I had left in the cupboard in with the butter. I didn’t weigh it but there wasn’t much there.

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The grumpy baker is NOT amused!

I was even more of a grumpy mood now, inwardly berating myself for being such a stress head and letting things get to me, and as I added in the eggs and saw them curdling with the  butter and bit of sugar, my mood worsened. Nonetheless, I plugged on and managed to get the brownie mixture in the oven on time, not before burning my hand on the oven shelf because I was in a rush and didn’t bother to put the oven gloves on. I deserved that one.

It was then when the brownies were in the oven that I realised I had completely forgotten to add the buttermilk I had bought! (What else am I going to use it for before it goes off?!) I definitely didn’t hold out much hope of these brownies turning out to be edible and was fully preparing myself for heading to the supermarket on the way to work to pick up cake for everyone.

Lo and behold however, the brownies came out of the oven and apart from the edges, which were slightly tough, it turned out lovely – albeit super sweet, probably down to the extra sugar I added! I was joyous, I was relieved, and I decided to chop them into small squares because the sweetness of them all meant that you really didn’t need a slab.

IMG_0042I took the cakes to work on Friday and they were happily demolished by my colleagues. Despite my best efforts, the brownies ended up not exactly being made with love, but they sure did turn out damn tasty. I’ll definitely make them again, but I will go into it with a clearer head and more time next time!

High points

The recipe is very easy to follow if you follow it correctly and, as I found out, even if you don’t follow it correctly, you’re still in with a fighting chance of a good brownie.

Low points

The low point was the error in the method ordering in the recipe, which I have corrected below. The other low point was my mood and my burnt hand!

Here’s the recipe I followed, along with my notes:

Ingredients

  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 160g dark chocolate
  • 85g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs (I used 4 medium eggs)
  • ¼ cup buttermilk (which I think is about 60ml? Do check, though!) I forgot to put this in, in my made baking rush, but it didn’t seem to affect the overall outcome!
  • 100g chocolate chips

Optional Secret Ingredients That Make It Better!

  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup – I DID add this!
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract – DID add this!
  • 20-30g hot chocolate powder – I didn’t add this.
  • 50g chopped nuts or dried fruit – I didn’t add this.
  • 20ml oil (on top of butter) – I didn’t add this.
  • ¼ tsp salt – I didn’t add this.
  • 1 teaspoon coffee (mix in with other wet ingredients) – I didn’t add this.
  • Marshmallows – I didn’t add this.

Method

  • Grease tins and line with greaseproof paper.
  • Preheat oven to 180˚C or 160˚C in a fan assisted oven.
  • Cream room temperature butter (bar 2 tbsp) and sugar together. Once white and fluffy beat in one egg at a time until combined.
  • Mix together all remaining dry ingredients and then place to one side.
  • Melt the chocolate and 2 tbsp butter either over simmering water or in the microwave and add into the butter/sugar mix once cooled slightly.
  • Add in any wet ingredients.
  • Mix once more and then sift in the dry ingredients and whisk together.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Pour into tins and bake from 20-35 minutes, checking every 10 minutes. They should still be soft and gooey in the middle and not completely cooked.
  • If you want to add marshmallows to the top cover the now cooked brownie with marshmallows and place the tin under the grill for a few seconds. Once they are browned take them out and wait for them to cool and cut.
  • ***It will be very sticky when you try to cut the brownie because of the mallows. In a plate or bowl next to you mix 3tbsp icing sugar and 1tbsp corn flour. Dust the knife after every cut to help cut the brownie.***
My Random Musings

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